Zootropolis/Zootopia Review

Zootropolis/Zootopia (2016) directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush. Written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston.

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, and Shakira.

Synopsis: In a world of anthropomorphic mammals, bunny rabbit Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a big fish (or rabbit for that matter) in a small pond (rabbit hole) and grows up desperate to be a police officer. However, her parents (Bonny Hunt and Don Lake) discourage this as they see it as dangerous and not something rabbits do. Ignoring her parents’ advice, Judy decides to move away to Zootropolis to fulfil her dream, a big city where she joins the police force. However, not being taken seriously by her boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), a cape buffalo, she is assigned to parking duty. As the story progresses, Judy volunteers herself for a missing mammal case to find Mr. Otterton, an otter who has mysteriously disappeared – very much against the will of Bogo. With the help of a con artist fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy is given 48 hours to solve the case or she will lose her job.

I had the pleasure of seeing this movie in an advanced screening for free, and I had been looking forward to it due to the impressive trailer I had seen many weeks before.

Firstly, the animation is impressive, as is the plot. This is essentially an animated whodunit, and adopts the sensibilities of that genre. There is even a parody of The Godfather with a Brandoesque arctic shrew ironically named Mr. Big, as well as many other humorous events that occur.

Much like many other animated offerings, this story has strong universal themes which people of all ages can relate to. There is the theme of acceptance regardless of species, as well as stereotypes. These are embedded within the narrative, and protagonist Judy faces these obstacles throughout.

Although being aimed at the child demographic, this is very accessible to adults and an enjoyable movie for all ages. The sheer array of different animals with differing characteristics give the story endless entertaining factors. The movie will most definitely have a sequel at some point, and I highly recommend this to anyone. A sloth named Flash steals the show, so look out for this – you can’t miss him.

By Robert Spence

Photo Credit: [Disney]

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The Following – Season 3 Episode 1 – New Blood – Review

Kevin Williamson created show The Following is back for its third season, and there are a collection of interesting new characters as well as familiar faces to join the mix in what seems will be an action packed season.

Episode Synopsis: We begin a year after the events of last season, and Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is on death row – a month from execution.

Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) has a new girlfriend named Gwen (Zuleikha Robinson), but he is still mentally recovering from previous events. After being blamed for the death of one of Joe’s followers in the opening scene from her apparent father, Ryan is clearly shaken. The trail of destruction left from the first two seasons has definitely left its mark.

Mark (Sam Underwood) is back with the absence of his twin brother Luke and mother Lily Gray. He is more psychotic than ever as a direct result of the deaths of his family members. With a new set of followers helping Mark, things begin to take a familiar turn, affecting Ryan Hardy in particular.

This is an interesting start to the season, with the main themes focusing significantly on the consequences of the characters’ actions. Ryan seems to show genuine remorse for all of the victims in the hunt for Joe, and is not the only character who has been affected by past events.

Ryan’s niece, Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) is back for this season, and has been impacted by F.B.I agent Mike Weston’s (Shawn Ashmore) previous departure and reappearance. Due to their romance last season, this will make for interesting viewing as the season progresses.

The new followers, Kyle (Hunter Parrish), Daisy (Ruth Kearney) and Andrew (Michael Irby) carry the sensibilities of previous followers, and spare none of the gory murders reminiscent of the first seasons. Therefore, I would not recommend watching if you are squeamish.

This episode was without Joe Carroll; however, it is shaping up to be another good season which I recommend tuning in for. Joe will most definitely play a significant part in this season with his looming execution providing an effective ticking clock to proceedings.

By Robert Spence

Nightcrawler Review

Nightcrawler (2014) written/directed by Dan Gilroy.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rennie Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton.

Synopsis: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaall) is desperate for work, and is caught stealing from a construction site when we see him for the first time. After Lou witnesses a freelance film crew at a crash scene, it inspires him to purchase a second hand video camera and police radio scanner.

After Lou films footage of a carjacking, he attempts to sell this to a local TV station. Morning News Director Nina (Renne Russo) buys the footage, and this starts an intriguing relationship between the two. As Lou’s business grows, he acquires the help of an assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) who was desperately seeking work. However, things begin to take a sinister turn when the boundaries of Lou’s new job are crossed.

Gyllenhaal is unnerving and sinister as the story’s protagonist, and this is possibly the best performance he has given to date. He is very interesting to watch despite various cringy exchanges between himself and other characters. This seems due to his lack of people skills. Lou reminded me somewhat of Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy (1983) with his delusional characteristics, but his complete determination to be successful. With Gyllenhaal’s dramatic weight loss, his usual muscular physique has been transformed to make him look extremely gaunt. This effectively adds to the sinister look he has.

The supporting cast also do a good job. This is the first movie I have seen Rennie Russo in for a long time, but she still carries the sex appeal she had throughout her younger years. Her character Nina’s desperation at trying to stay on top is conveyed with her willingness to push Gyllenhaal’s edgy reportings onto mainstream television.

This story makes a number of statements about contemporary news reporting – one being the boundaries between ethical against what makes for a breaking story. This is explored throughout the movie, with Gyllenhaal consistently shunning the morally correct thing to do in favour of what will make for a better and financially benifiting news story.

The story’s themes are extremely thought provoking. I left the movie thinking this probably happens daily in the media, with camera crews doing anything to get a decent vantage of their subjects.

Writer/Director Dan Gilroy did a fantastic job with this movie, and this has deservedly been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Gilroy has managed to directed and write a compelling story with equally compelling performances from his cast.

Overall, I was intrigued throughout this movie at the characters, the plot and themes the filmmaker was conveying. It is one of the best movie’s I have seen over the past year and is well worth a watch.

By Robert Spence

Gotham – Pilot – Season 1 Episode 1 – Review

Gotham (2014) is an American television series and is an origins story to the DC comics character Batman as well as some other characters in that universe. The series was created by Bruno Heller, and focuses on Commissioner Jim Gordon as the main protagonist.

Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee, David Mazouz and Jada Pinkett Smith.

This episode was directed by Danny Cannon and written by Bruno Heller.

Episode Synopsis: The story begins with Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents being shot and killed in cold blood by a masked gunman. Sparing Bruce, he flees leaving him with his parent’s bodies.

We are then introduced to rookie cop Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his partner Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Gordon promises Bruce that he will find the man who killed his parents.

As the story progresses, Gordon becomes immersed in the corruption governing Gotham, and the many villains who inhabit it.

This is a very good opening episode, and captures the characteristics of Gotham very well. Fans of the Batman universe will not be disappointed, as this latest outing looks at it with a fresh pair of eyes.

The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents has been done endlessly, but this series harnesses these events from the perspective of Jim Gordon; thus allowing something fresh.

bruce wayne parents dead

Characteristically, there is a lot of potential. Jim Gordon is likeable and morally good despite the corruption surrounding him. Ben McKenzie is perfect for this role, and plays Gordon very well.

The supporting cast are also impressive. The young Bruce Wayne is exactly as I imagined as well as his loyal butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee).

The main antagonists such as Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) effectively embody the collective corruption in Gotham. This is the first role I have seen her portray a villain, and she does it very well. She is sexy as she is scheming – very much a femme fatale.

There are various seeds planted in this episode which will undoubtedly grow as the series progresses. Fans of Batman are in for a treat as well-known characters begin to reveal themselves.

By Robert Spence

Gone Girl Review

Gone Girl (2014) written by Gillian Flynn and directed by David Fincher. This is based on the novel of the same name also by Flynn.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens.

Synopsis: After the mysterious disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) in the small town of North Carthage, Missouri, her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) and the police try and piece together what happened. As the story progresses, we discover the couple had an unhappy marriage which leads us to question Nick’s innocence in all of this. Did he murder his wife and make it look like she was kidnapped? Did one of her previous boyfriends have something to do with this? As Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and her partner Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) dig deeper, they begin to realise that nothing is as it seems.

Having just attended an advanced screening of this movie, my initial reaction is very favourable. This is a great film, and one of the best I have seen this year. Having heard the hype surrounding the book, I was expecting good things and I was not disappointed.

Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel into the screenplay for this movie, and this was a wise choice. Time and again I have heard the phrase “the movie wasn’t as good as the book,” therefore, it is refreshing to see the original writer adapt her own work. This allowed Flynn to be as faithful as she wanted to her original source material as well as adapt this for a cinematic audience which really paid off.

This is by no means a short movie, and its running time is roughly 2 hours 30 minutes. This allows for the mystery to slowly unravel at a nice pace. Flynn paints her characters as flawed which I admire due to this being true to life. Nick Dunne is not perfect and neither is his wife Amy as we are fed flashbacks told from Amy’s narrative perspective. The characterisation is great, and the important reveals effectively manipulate the viewer’s perception of the main characters numerous times. As a result, we are unsure what is true which makes the story more interesting.

I have been a fan of David Fincher for a while, and he stays true to his directorial style in his latest work. Apart from the Oscar nominated director working on a couple of House of Cards (2013) episodes, this is his first movie since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and an impressive one at that. This has the feel of a Fincher movie, and carries with it the “nothing is as it seems” characteristics of previous works.

What sets great movies out from average ones is their ramping up of events and deviating from formula. The first hour of this movie plays out like a typical missing person movie. The person goes missing, the police get involved, and the whole whodunit genre characteristics take over. However, this story evolves into so much more than the typical whodunit and provokes the viewer with a lot of questions.

Thematically, fame is at the heart of this story. Nick becomes demonised by the media after his wife’s disappearance whereas Amy is canonised. It also provokes us to question what really goes on behind closed doors. Are the seemingly happy people we see in the media really like this? Would you stay in an unhappy marriage to keep the peace?

The acting in this movie is impressive, and Rosamund Pike steals the show in her portrayal of Amy. Ben Affleck also does not disappoint as her co-star. The other supporting cast such as Neil Patrick Harris and Carrie Coon complement the story well.

To conclude, this is a very good movie and I highly advise paying the money to see this in the cinema. It is long, but this is needed to do the story the justice it deserves.

By Robert Spence

The Inbetweeners 2 Review

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014) directed/written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris. This is the sequel to the 2011 movie and is a spin-off from the 2008 television sitcom.

This movie stars: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Joe Thomas and Blake Harrison.

Synopsis: The four friends have moved on somewhat since their last adventure in Malia where they had their first lad’s holiday. Will (Simon Bird) is still as geeky as ever and attending university. He is still as disastrous at making friends and talking to the opposite sex. Simon (Joe Thomas) is also at university and is now in an unhappy relationship with Lucy (Tamla Kari) who he met on holiday in the first movie. Her character is the polar opposite of what she was before and is very overbearing and clingy; therefore, Simon is trying his best to dump her. Neil (Blake Harrison) works in a bank and is as dopey as when we last saw him.

After receiving an email from Jay (James Buckley) about how good Australia is (because he is having a gap year there), the gang decide to join him for a month’s holiday. However, when they arrive, things do not go according to plan resulting in some hilarious circumstances.

Being a big fan of the original series and movie, I was expecting big things from this sequel. I did, however, have reservations that it would be very samey in places. However, as soon as I got past the opening scene my reservations diminished as the first laughs bellowed from the cinema hall.

In my opinion, this is better than the original and the writers seem to play around a bit more with the narrative structure which results in a less formulaic story. The writers have also managed to make this just as funny as the original, and there were a few occasions where I was crying with laughter.

Out with the four friends, there is an array of other funny interesting characters who complement the story well. The movie really explores the notion of travelling, and finds humour in some of these situations – i.e. staying in hostels and being on the road. No doubt this will spark a frenzy of people desperate to backpack and experience similar things.

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All four of the main characters have great chemistry which is what has made the show and movies so successful. The funny script as well as their onscreen chemistry will undoubtedly result in this surpassing the original as the most successful British comedy of all time. As I do not want to spoil any of the gags in this movie, all I can say is watch this movie because it is definitely worth it.

By Robert Spence

Outlander – Season 1 Episode 1 – Sassenach – Review

Outlander (2014) is a historical multi genre television series based on the best-selling novels written by Diana Gabaldon. This was developed by Ronald D. Moore, and the opening episode was directed by John Dahl.

Starring John Heffernan, Nell Hudson, Caitriona Balfe, Tobias Menzies and Sam Heughan.

Synopsis: The story begins in 1945 with combat nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) 6 months after the conclusion of World War II. She peers into a shop window and receives a flashback of her time there. We witness her nursing a dying soldier, and the harsh realities of war. After hearing the war has finally come to an end, there is much celebration.

Back to reality, and Claire travels with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) to Inverness in Scotland to bridge the time they have spent apart since the war. He has accepted a teaching position at Oxford University which he is due to start two weeks from then. It is apparent their time apart has made an impact, and this is somewhat of a second honeymoon for them. They explore the sights, and become better acquainted.

After exploring the forest on her own for plants, Claire begins hearing strange buzzing noises. After inspecting further, they seems to be descending from a large standing stone. She edges closer and touches it.

Darkness, and Claire wakes up on the ground in what appears to be the same place; however, she has travelled back in time to 1743. After exploring, she sees red coat soldiers engaging in gunfire. They shoot in her direction causing her to run away. She stumbles across the double of her husband dressed as a red coat, and his name is Jonathan Randal (also played by Tobias Menzies). This is clearly an ancestor of Frank’s. He tries to rape her when suddenly she is rescued by a Highlander. After she screams for help, he knocks her out. She awakens and is taken to a safe house with other Highlanders. She gives a fake last name for safety, and meets a handsome injured Highlander named Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). After helping him, she gradually begins to realise that she is no longer in the 20th century, and must find a way to return home.

After hearing rumours of these novels being adapted for years, it is good to finally see this story onscreen. As there is currently eight novels in this series, it is clear to see why this has been adapted for television.

I was impressed with the initial episode of this show. The majority of this episode establishes the protagonist Claire and her current life as well as some backstory. We see the trauma she has gone through during the war, but her resilience at getting on with her life.

It does seem like the target demographic of this show is aimed towards women due to the romantic elements along with a female protagonist; however, this would not deter me from watching the rest of the show and enjoying this story.

Caitriona Balfe is relatively new on the acting scene, and has recently come to prominence in movies such as Now You See me (2013) and Escape Plan (2013). She is very likeable, and there will not be a problem with an audience connecting with her. Her chemistry with Sam Heughan who plays Jamie Fraser (the main love interest in this story) is good, and this initial spark in the opening episode paves way nicely for the rest of the show.

Male or female, if you like a good love story, then I would recommend this show. It will not be the next Game of Thrones but seems to be shaping up as a nice adaptation to the popular novels.

By Robert Spence